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Editorial: Governor, don't keep parents in the dark about COVID-19

The Detroit News

Parents will be making difficult decisions over the next few days — and likely throughout the upcoming school year — about how their children will be educated.

The more data they have to work with about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan the more informed they'll be in making those choices.

That's why this newspaper joined the Michigan Press Association and publications across the state in asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to "to compile and publicly release, on a consistent ongoing basis, vital public information regarding  school related COVID outbreaks."

Transparency is a primary obligation of elected officials. Keeping the people fully informed about the things that are impacting their lives on a timely basis is a core duty of any public office.

Currently, details of school-related outbreaks are spread primarily by word of mouth.

And yet the Michigan Department of Health and Human Resources and local health departments are withholding details on the location and severity of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

There's no public safety justification for not releasing the information. It is being gathered with public dollars, and thus belongs to taxpayers.

Currently, details of school-related outbreaks are spread primarily by word of mouth.

And yet both the state and school districts are making critical decisions based on data that citizens haven't been able to see.

The Whitmer administration contends timely sharing of information is not possible at this time because of shortcomings in the state's tracking system.

That in itself is a major issue. The state health department says it may take weeks to fix the tracking system.

 No issue is more paramount in Michigan today than how and when students will be allowed back in classrooms. There is no excuse for the tracking system to be down for an extended period of time just as the school year is beginning.

The administration must do and spend whatever it takes to get it up and running ASAP. The governor must show more urgency in keeping parents informed of conditions affecting their children's safety.

Compounding the state's information black-out is the refusal of county health departments to share publicly the statistics they send the state. Again, there's no justification for withholding  information that belongs to the public.

Transparency has not been a strong suit of the governor throughout this crisis. The people have vested in her considerable authority via the emergency powers laws.

Whitmer owes them a full accounting of not only how she's using those powers, but also a full disclosure of the data that is informing her decisions.

There are few conditions that justify a governor withholding public information; this certainly isn't one of them.

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